Harry Elmer Barnes, RIP

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This article
originally appeared in the final issue of Left
& Right
.

 

 
Harry
Elmer Barnes (1889–1968)

 
 

On August 25,
1968, less than a week after completing the final draft of the article
which constitutes this issue of Left & Right, Harry Elmer
Barnes died at the age of 79.

All persons
leave an irreplaceable gap when they die; but this gap is truly
enormous in the case of Harry Barnes, for in so many ways he was
the Last of the Romans. He was the last, for example, of that stratum
of rural Protestant boys who shed their religion at college and
went on to constitute almost the entire founding generation of American
scholars and university teachers. More specifically, he was the
last of the founders of the "New History," that movement
at the turn of the century which, headed by Barnes’s friends and
mentors Charles A. Beard, Carl L. Becker, and James Harvey Robinson,
virtually founded the profession of historian in America and placed
its entire stamp on historiography until the advent of World War
II. And Harry Barnes was the last of the truly erudite historians.
In a field of accelerating narrowness and specialization where the
expert on France in the 1830s is likely to know next to nothing
about what happened to France in the 1840s, Harry Barnes ranged
over the entire field of historical study and vision.

He was the
Complete Historian; and it was the historical approach that informed
his work in all the other social science disciplines in which he
was so remarkably productive: sociology, criminology, religion,
economics, current affairs, and social thought. Surely his scholarly
output was and will continue to remain unparalleled, as even a glance
at a bibliography of his writings will show.

The quantity
and scope of his productive output would alone stamp Harry Elmer
Barnes as a memorable scholar, but this alone barely begins to scratch
the surface of how remarkable a man he was. For he was that rarity
among scholars: a passionately committed man. It was not enough
for Harry to discover and set forth the truth; he must also work
actively and whole-heartedly in the world on behalf of that truth.
His was the opposite attitude from the detached irony of his friend
Carl Becker. He believed, properly but increasingly alone, that
it was the ultimate function of the vast and growing scholarly apparatus
to bring about a better life for mankind; that the ultimate function
of the scholarly disciplines is to aid in carving out an ethics
for mankind and then to help put such ethics into practice. As devoted
as he was to the discipline of history throughout his lifetime,
he was just as devoted to putting its lessons to the service of
man. Not for Barnes was the antiquarian "scholarship for scholarship’s
sake"; for him the guiding star was scholarship for the sake
of man. Hence the appropriateness of Carl Becker’s affectionate
label for Barnes: "The Learned Crusader."

It was Harry’s
passionate commitment to truth that lost for him the applause of
scholars and multitude alike and cast him, for the last two decades
of his life, into outer darkness. During the 1930s, Harry Barnes
was acclaimed by scholars and laymen as one of the foremost intellectual
leaders of his time. His books were reviewed, invariably favorably,
on the coveted Page One of the New York Sunday Times Book Review.
His column in the Scripps-Howard papers was read attentively by
millions. But, in terms of continuing worldly eminence, Harry made
one fatal mistake: he insisted, forever and always, on being true
to his convictions and to his principles, let the chips fall where
they may.

Hence, when
liberal opinion, shortly before America’s entry into World War II,
began to flip-flop en masse from its previous devotion to neutrality
and nonintervention, and beat the drums for war, Harry Barnes, like
his fellow liberals John T. Flynn and Charles A. Beard, stood steadfast.
He refused to be stampeded by the interventionist war hysteria and
he refused to keep his mouth shut over an issue so vital for mankind.
He refused, like so many of his friends who knew better and had
less to lose, to take the safer and more opportune course. He stood
foursquare against the drive to war, and for his pains was summarily
removed from his post as columnist by Roy Howard, who again knew
better but felt that he had to bow to the intense pressure of interventionist
advertisers against Harry Barnes. Like Beard and Flynn, Barnes found
himself hounded by former friends and colleagues and denounced as
a "Nazi" merely for cleaving to the liberal and pro-peace
principles which all alike had shared a few short months before.

As America
emerged from World War II as the world’s mightiest militarist and
imperialist power, and prepared to launch the Cold War to maintain
and expand that empire, the liberal establishment, now vital in
operating and apologizing for the empire, would have been prepared
to forgive and forget, as they did for many others. All Harry would
have had to do was to keep quiet, to at least silently accept the
New Order and the New America, and, above all, to refrain from taking
the lead, as he had done after World War I, in revising the myths
about the war and in calling the crimes of his own and allied governments
to account at the bar of history and justice.

Other
historians, still "isolationist" about World War II, were
willing to shut up and remain unpunished by the establishment; but
not Harry Elmer Barnes. Harry was a learned crusader; other men
might grow more conservative and timid and accommodating to the
powers-that-be as they grew older and more settled, but never Harry
Elmer Barnes. That was to be his great burden during the remaining
years of his life, but that was also to be his undying glory.

For two decades
after World War II, liberal scholars and intellectuals led the way
in the great "consensus" celebration of what America had
become. But Harry Barnes could not participate in this jejune celebration.
He reviled the militarism, the witch hunts, the imperialism, the
military-industrial economy, the "totalitarian liberalism"
as he called it, that now characterized America, as well as the
detached and Mandarin nature of the social science disciplines.
He attacked all of these new trends, but he saw also that their
roots lay in America’s entry into World War II, and that therefore
a new general insight into the truths behind that war was vital
if America were ever to throw off the shackles of its New Order.

And so Harry
Barnes devoted much of the remainder of his life to creating a whole
body of revisionist scholarship about the origins of World War II.
As the Field Marshal of Revisionism after the First World War, Barnes
had been in the company of the bulk of younger historians as well
as the whole intellectual world. But now he was virtually alone,
scorned by historians and laymen alike. But not for a moment did
Harry allow himself to become discouraged or defeated. Single-handed,
he virtually created a new revisionism. For every book and article
revising the official myths about America and the Second World War,
Harry Barnes was there in the forefront, discovering, inspiring,
cajoling, admonishing, editing, promoting.

He
was the father and the catalyst for all of World War II revisionism,
as well as personally writing numerous articles, editing and writing
for the revisionist symposium Perpetual
War for Perpetual Peace
, and launching the whole struggle
immediately after the war with the first of numerous editions of
his hard-hitting, privately printed brochure, Struggle Against
the Historical Blackout. Fortunately, Harry lived long enough
to see the tide begin inexorably to turn among the historical profession,
to see a New Left emerge that is beginning to call into question
not only America’s current imperial wars but also World War II itself:
especially in the work of William Appleman Williams and his students
in modern American history. To his friends and colleagues the fact
that Harry lived to see the emergence of his own vindication after
so many years is the only slight consolation for suffering his loss.

Friendship:
this brings us to Harry’s remarkable qualities as a teacher and
as a friend. That Harry Barnes was one of the great teachers of
his era is attested to by innumerable students, a large number loyal
to the end despite fundamental disagreements on policies and points
of view. His personal charm, his great generosity toward friends
and students, as well as his own prodigious work and erudition were
able to inspire great loyalty and devotion among his students, and
spur their own productive efforts. As a friend, Harry put all of
us to shame with the quantity and quality of his letters; surely
here was one of the most remarkable letter writers of our time.
Never could any of us write more than one letter for every three
or four of Harry’s; and in them he would pour forth a seemingly
endless stream of learned and candid comment, analysis, news, criticism,
and generous praise.

For Harry,
friendship was never casual or superficial; it was devoted and deeply
felt, and to it he gave as much concern and passion as he poured
into his work as an historian or as a crusader. Inevitably, then,
these friendships were often stormy; and I don’t believe there was
any friend with whom Harry did not, at one time or other, break
or almost break relations. But those who knew Harry only by reputation
or in his uncompromising writings can never come to understand or
savor Harry in person, as he unfailingly was: cheery, courteous,
a witty and often ribald raconteur, a marvelous and lovable companion.
We shall miss him terribly.

Fortunately,
Harry’s friends and colleagues have, for several years, been at
work on a Festschrift, which has grown into a monumental testimonial
volume describing and celebrating every aspect of Harry Barnes’s
life and work. Forthcoming soon, it will be entitled Harry
Elmer Barnes: The Learned Crusader
, and it is the sorrow
of all of us that Harry, while having read all of the manuscript,
did not have the opportunity to see it in print. The book deserves
the widest possible audience.

In the meanwhile,
Left & Right is privileged to present what tragically
turned out to be Harry Barnes’s last work, a work which he believed
to be the final word on the task which had occupied him for the
last quarter of a century: the
true story of Pearl Harbor
.

Characteristically.
Harry spent literally years adding to, revising, and checking the
entire article, so that it would pass the highest and most rigorous
standards. His friend, the Pearl Harbor expert Commander Charles
C. Hiles, helped immeasurably in repeated reading and checking over
the material. We have been delighted and honored that Harry chose
the pages of Left & Right to present what he proposed
to be his final word on the subject, the culminating synthesis of
a quarter century of revisionist inquiry.

 

 

$45
$40
Left & Right: A Journal of Libertarian Thought

(Complete, 1965–1968)

 
 

Some readers
might ask: why? What’s the point? Isn’t this just a raking up of
old coals? Aren’t we merely pursuing an antiquarian interest when
we examine in such detail what happened over a quarter-century ago?
The answer is that this subject, far from being antiquarian, is
crucial to the understanding of where we are now and how we got
that way. For America’s entry into World War II was the crucial
act in expanding the United States from a republic into an empire,
and in spreading that empire throughout the world, replacing the
sagging British Empire in the process.

Our entry
into World War II was the crucial act in foisting a permanent militarization
upon the economy and society, in bringing to the country a permanent
garrison state, an overweening military-industrial complex, a permanent
system of conscription. It was the crucial act in creating a mixed
economy run by Big Government, a system of state-monopoly capitalism
run by the central government in collaboration with Big Business
and Big Unionism.

It was the
crucial act in elevating presidential power, particularly in foreign
affairs, to the role of single most despotic person in the history
of the world. And, finally, World War II is the last war myth left,
the myth that the Old Left clings to in pure desperation: the myth
that here, at least, was a good war, here was a war in which America
was in the right.

World War II
is the war thrown into our faces by the war-making establishment,
as it tries, in each war that we face, to wrap itself in the mantle
of good and righteous World War II. It is because of its enthusiasm
for World War II and its leader, Franklin D. Roosevelt, that the
Old Left has never been able to understand the straight and true
line that leads from the New Deal and Franklin D. Roosevelt which
they adore, to the Great Society and Lyndon Johnson which they despise.
Lyndon B. Johnson is absolutely correct when he refers to FDR as
his "Big Daddy." The paternity is clear.

It
is this much-needed stripping away of the last remaining good-war
and good-war-president myth that Harry Elmer Barnes accomplishes
in his final article. It is a fitting note for Harry to leave us,
for it is in a cause for which Harry fought and suffered all of
his life: the cause of peace and justice and historical truth.

Murray
N. Rothbard
(1926–1995) was the author of Man,
Economy, and State
, Conceived
in Liberty
, What
Has Government Done to Our Money
, For
a New Liberty
, The
Case Against the Fed
, and many
other books and articles
. He was
also the editor – with Lew Rockwell – of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report
.

Murray
Rothbard Archives

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